December 2018 Featured Carousel Features

5 Keys to Hiring Great Talent


Written By: Marsh Sutherland

Students pursuing a liberal arts degree are a hot topic within higher education and industry alike. Two narratives have emerged from this conversation. One posits that liberal arts majors need to actively seek tangible (read: technical) skills to solidify their worth in the market. Another states that liberal arts majors need only to be patient as data shows their long-term career outcomes often surpass their counterparts.

In my experience, students embody the former and struggle to remain resolute in their decision to pursue a liberal arts degree. Everyone around them seems to be echoing the same fear for their future. I often encounter students who believe they need to change majors, double-major or pick up a minor in order to transition out of college as a viable candidate.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with double-majoring, we should challenge our students’ belief in the intrinsic necessity of the decision. What liberal arts majors need – more than technical skills – is creativity and the ability to tell their story effectively. Additionally, I would argue that industry needs exactly the same.

What comes to mind when you think of a student majoring in history? What value do they bring to the market? What skills can they contribute to an organization? I would argue that these students are adept critical thinkers. They are able to understand complex issues within context and use large amounts of data to make inferences about the future.

They have been exposed to myriad places and cultures. They have learned and utilized a variety of technologies to solve problems (think online databases and microfiche). They are likely clear and succinct communicators. Because historical research and writing are often done alone, they are self-motivated.

However, by nature of our “always-connected” society, they are likely to work well with a team. Also, we must not forget that the history major does not merely exist in the classroom. A wide array of out-of-the-classroom experiences have added to their repertoire. What is my argument? Even without double-majoring, the history major is likely to be career-ready.

Through trends analyses and research, the University of Florida’s Career Connections Center developed a Career Action Plan that facilitates the bridging of introspective thinking to action steps that students can take as soon as they are admitted to the institution. Within this model, we have also identified core competencies that support students’ career readiness and lay the foundation for successful transition into the workforce.

It is also imperative to note our core belief that experience changes everything. Internships, study abroad, part-time jobs, student organization involvement, academic research and community engagement are all key elements of building a successful career. These are the places where students grow into leaders and develop the skills that support their transition into the workforce and graduate school.

The Career Connections Center exists not only to help students identify action steps toward a career, but also to facilitate critical reflection on their experiences (both academic and extracurricular). This reflection is the key to helping them hone in on a career that suits them best.It’s well-known in the software industry that a single A-level software
engineer is more valuable than 10 B-level software engineers. The A player not only produces more clean code, but also creates
fewer bugs that need to be fixed. Software companies with top-gun software engineers hit their milestones faster and beat out the competition. As Steve Kaufer of TripAdvisor says, “Speed wins.”

“The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market. The average great software developer will apply for, total, maybe, four jobs in their entire career,” said Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Trello and Fog Creek Software. But how do tech companies in Greater Gainesville find these talented unicorn employees?

In my many years of recruiting top talent for software companies and creating and launching my own software startups, there are five main ways to hire great talent:

  1. Recruit them directly from other local companies
  2. Recruit them from other cities to move
  3. Catch “trailing spouses” when they arrive
  4. Hire top interns for the summer
  5. Develop their talent from within

As Spolsky said, the best people in every field are simply never on the market. Companies rarely find the cream of the crop applying for jobs posted on Monster, Indeed or other job sites.

For tech companies, I recommend getting to know the top talent locally by attending meetings of local professional associations and meetups. Companies can find the local thought leaders since they demonstrate the most knowledge, and junior people tend to crowd around them.

Companies can also do a simple keyword search on LinkedIn to identify great talent and then contact people on that platform to see if they’re interested in joining them.

I lived in Boston for 17 years and while I did enjoy working with top software companies like TripAdvisor, Kayak and other household names, the weather is WAY better in Gainesville! Gainesville is also very attractive to mid-level professionals because of its family-friendly lifestyle. Plus, Gainesville offers a top university, a growing tech economy, a great school system, far less traffic, much more affordable housing and a lower cost of living than most large metro areas.

Fast-growing Gainesville area businesses, however, face a challenge. Yes, entrepreneurial resources abound and more companies and employees are deciding to locate here thanks to the impressive cultural assets and a strong pipeline of highly qualified entry-level workforce talent. But both employers and employees are suffering from a relative dearth of mid-level and senior talent.

To address this challenge, member companies of the Chamber of Commerce’s Gainesville Tech Council have initiated a new program to recruit talent from other big cities to Gainesville. The program will partner with the UF Alumni Association and other organizations to attract and share talent through targeted advertising, a new website that highlights the region’s tech-related employment opportunities and a database of jobs and job candidates.

Companies would be smart to recruit UF alumni back to Gainesville. Many are still Gator sports fans and may enjoy raising their young families here!

Smart and talented people tend to marry other smart and talented people. UF hires some of the smartest people in the world to its staff. This creates a talent pool of “trailing spouses” who follow their husbands, wives or partners to Greater Gainesville. If companies tap into this pool, they may find a unicorn before other local companies are aware of them.

Info Tech, a large local software and consulting company, has an incredible intern program. Each summer, Info Tech hires a team of the top economics undergrad and graduate students to intern with its consulting team. The interns don’t have experience, but they have the kind of raw intelligence that’s extremely rare.

“By investing in our internship program, we have the opportunity to invest in our future workforce,” said Lindsey Day, assistant director of Talent Acquisition and Development at Info Tech, Inc. “While running a strong internship program requires a significant time commitment, interns bring an eagerness and enthusiasm to their roles that is only present within professionals just starting their careers. Our interns give to us, just as much as we give to them.”

If companies implement a similar intern program, they can really do a “try before you buy” and help these students fall in love with your company and staff. And besides, they want a job! Jobs aren’t easy to come by for fresh college graduates.

Just as companies will train and develop their interns into great employees, companies can develop their own employees with professional training. If you’re looking to promote a superstar from within to management, but he or she doesn’t have management skills, you can send them to a leadership training program such as Landmark in Orlando.

Dave Cobb, general manager of Marc Radio, provides a series of books to new employees to become the best employees they can be. Marc Radio invests heavily in employee development. As a result, it has a low turnover rate. As Tony Rubleski, bestselling and creator of the Mind Capture book series, says, “Great leaders are not born; they are made that way.”

What talent is your company seeking to grow? What people are required to achieve milestones in your strategic business plan? Will you hire from outside or promote from within to achieve those goals?

Sheer intelligence and talent are the required inputs for tech companies to thrive and grow. As Jim Collins, author of #1 best-seller “Good To Great” said, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Does the history major desire for their career to be history-related, or do they want to employ the skills they’ve gained in an entirely new context? If they desire the latter, then they are likely to need support in identifying that context.

They will need to reflect on the value imparted to them by their education. They will need to understand how their extracurricular activities have added to their knowledge and skills. They will need to understand how to tell their story and how to customize it for the industry they desire to enter. Finally, they will need to eagerly seek feedback to identify areas for further development.

My prescription for industry is identical. Broadening your imagination can only lead to a more effective and diverse workforce. Do not remain steadfast in the belief that a square peg cannot fit in a round hole. Instead, question why the hole is round to begin with.

You can shift the reality of what is possible for our students. Some organizations will require that their candidates possess certain technical skills. Academia cannot ignore this. Share this information freely with both students, faculty and staff.

Tell the story of your organization’s needs. This is the kind of feedback that I encourage students to seek feverishly, lest they arrive at the gates of their career without a key. Collaboratively, we can replace fear and rejection with rejuvenation within our students.

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